Chapter 33: Upside down
Not waiting for colder heads to dissuade them, Eirik and Jack hurried to a room they had designated as their own storage area in their visits years earlier. Both of them could access it and it was part of a mystery for Chrissy’s statistics. If they tried to have Jack open any other room that Eirik had opened first, he would never be able to open them after. But for this room, it was working perfectly. The conclusion was that the Facility must have known this room was storing Jack’s own equipment and didn’t mind allowing him access.
Both were frantic at the idea of discovering yet another Facility, but still tried to slow down and take it one step at a time. Jack, since their first weekend, had always explored it carrying his fully-loaded expedition backpack and although he stopped carrying it since the project started, this time it was game on and he wouldn’t be parted with it and all its contents: cordage, food, water and a complete homemade survival kit. He also had a gun, a Glock that he had hidden in the side pocket of the backpack. He told no one, except Eirik, whom he trusted with his life.
“Eirik, make sure you take everything we need,” requested Jack. “I know that it seems that they can send things through, but you know me, I’m a paranoid son of a bitch.”
“I didn’t say it this time, Mr. Overkill,” replied Eirik, filling his own backpack. “We never needed it so far, but I don’t see a reason to lower our guard. Speaking of sending things through, do you think that means that we have found an indirect way to take stuff out?”
“Uh, I didn’t really consider that with all the excitement,” answered Jack as he grabbed a few more chocolate bars from the drawers that were generally reserved for clothing. “But, I would assume that the other Facility has measures to prevent it. But that would be a kicker if we could.”
With the idea in mind, Eirik grabbed a blue box of tissue that contained some of the Builders’ equipment, removed three MREs from his pack, and neatly placed the box in the freed space and covered it with a t-shirt. They made their way back to the transporters and were stopped by a few of the people who wished them luck. Sheila Frazer was amid the crowd. She took them aside, kissed them both and laid an additional burden on them. She said if they didn’t return Philie to her, she would be forced to make herself a silver spike and go vampire hunting. They reassured her and took a box of doggie liver treats from her and entered the elevator. Jack loved dogs and questioned her for a few seconds on the commands the dog knew and what her favourite food was, besides cheese. He felt it was natural to ask as he had no intention of returning immediately. This was a completely new discovery all over again and he was eager to repeat his first success over there. His duties here would have to wait.
When the door to the elevator vanished, they found themselves walking between two files of people on either side of the corridor. It seemed that almost everyone came down to see them off. The people on each side of the impromptu procession seemed to be displaying mixed emotions on their faces. It appeared to range from jealousy, mainly from the alpha males, to terror and fear of never seeing them again. They shook some hands and gave some kisses and made their way forward, taking in the warmth. Celina hugged Eirik for a few seconds, which attracted the attention of Jack, who simply smiled and raised an eyebrow.
As they arrived in front of the transporters, Fangs was there to see them off. Jack, as he saw her made-up face, thought that if he was going to die, he would rather have seen the face of someone prettier and more human. But he had not seen Chrissy in the gathering crowd and he remembered why and smiled.
“Listen up!” said Fangs, trying to talk over the noise of the crowd. “Since I have used the third transporter for all the tests, I want you to use the first and second one. That way, you will not step on the communication device or rematerialize with it instead of your feet. Yes, you heard me. We have no way to know if the stuff on the receiving pad gets dematerialized or not. All I know is that it didn’t return here, so that means you will have to activate the transporter pad on your end in order for you to return. I just activated the comm system and I heard the dog barking at a distance like before. So, you should be okay.”
Both men nodded in acknowledgment. “Jack, your backpack is big, so I recommend that you place yourself sideways on the pad or send it first using pad four,” offered Fangs, pointing to it.
“It’s okay, I would rather not be separated from it,” replied Jack, waving at everyone and stepping on the second pad. Eirik did the same and stepped on the first and touched the black panel.
“Do you want me to go first?” asked Jack, who touched the panel and was looking at the second bright prism.
“No, wait a second. I have an idea. Doctor, step closer please,” requested Eirik. “Jack, don’t do anything, okay.” And with that, he pressed the first geometric shape. In less than two seconds, he was engulfed in a black mist emanating from the back wall. He instinctively closed his eyes and tried to remain calm. When the mist vanished, he had disappeared. A few seconds later, the process was reversed and he reappeared on the same pad. “Damn, it’s like the sonic shower but much more intense.”
Everyone applauded frantically as the excitement was renewed up and down the corridor.
“How are you feeling?” asked Doctor Novikov as he checked his eyes with a little Maglite and grabbed his wrist to check his pulse. “Smart move, by the way.”
“Well, the tingling sensation is gone and I feel the same as I did a minute ago,” observed Eirik, relatively shaken by the experience, but too proud to let it show in front of the crowd.
“Except that you are not you anymore,” explained Fangs, grinning. “Your original body was copied, destroyed and recreated. In short, you are dead.”
“You are in good shape for a dead man,” confirmed Novikov as he measured his vital signs, disregarded the slightly elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and gave him the thumbs up.
“Thanks, Doc,” replied Eirik.
“Ready Eirik?” asked Jack next to him, apparently not bothered by Nancy’s description or the implication. He was just too excited to care.
“Yes, my friend. On three...” proposed Eirik, starting to count. “One… two…” and they both pressed the second symbol together on three and vanished off their respective pads.
At that moment, they both felt the tingling sensation throughout their bodies, just like Eirik described, and everything when black. A tenth of a second or a year could have passed, and they wouldn’t have known. Eirik rematerialized and felt his body fall sideways and raised his arm by reflex. He had just enough time to notice that everything was still black and then, nothing.
Jack, at the same time, felt his backpack lighten and felt it shift from his shoulders. For a second, he believed it was vertigo. But before the idea had time to mature, his head slammed hard on the top of his backpack and he rolled on his side. Everything around him was totally dark. He landed hard. After checking his arms and legs, he seemed uninjured. His first reaction was to try to get up but as he took a breath, he realized that the air smelled like a cave that hadn’t received enough air for years. The floor was a little humid and hard as a rock. He could feel that the floor was dusty and each breath was difficult but manageable, much like breathing through an industrial dust mask. He struggled to remove his gear and stopped. Something just stepped on his arm. Fear grabbed him as he raised his hands to protect his face instinctively. In that same instance, he felt something wet pass on his face and then again, this time in his ear. He could feel the hot breath on him and hear the panting. He managed to break free and knelt. He grabbed the dog by the loose skin at the back of its neck and put it down. The dog was now totally excited to have company and was whining madly. Jack called for Eirik, but no answer came from him. Instead, a female voice answered. “How’s the place?” asked Fangs.
“Give me a second and maintain radio silence,” asked Jack.
“Are you telling me to shut up?” Aaaaaah... what?! Hey—” The line was cut as Fangs’ last remark echoed eerily in the darkness. The colonel had taken the communication device from her hands and muted it. The only sound that remained on Jack’s side was that of the Beagle’s tongue, busy drinking something. He could hear the tongue slurping rapidly at some liquid next to his leg. The dog suddenly lost interest in him and was busy satisfying its basic survival instincts and all that in complete darkness, thanks to her wet bloodhound nose.
Jack took his flashlight from his belt and opened it by twisting the bigger end, twisting it a bit further to focus the beam. He pointed it in the direction of the noise. The dog was drinking from one of his bottles of water. It was smashed as he hit the ground and was lying open next to the wall. As he turned, the light reflected off the metallic railing and lighting channels on the floor. At last, Eirik came into view. He was lying on his face, motionless. His head was slightly at an angle, facing him, and Jack could see blood on the floor mixed with dirty water. He stepped over him, placed him on his back and tilted his head to clear his airways. Jack then placed his ear in front of Eirik’s mouth and listened. He was breathing and his chest was rising and falling slowly but steadily. He called out his name, but he got no answer. Continuing the examination, he found that his arm was slightly crooked at an angle in the wrong direction.
Jack looked around and grabbed the communication device. “Colonel, are you there?”
“Yes, Jack, I’m here. What’s happening?”
We are in shit, that’s what, he thought. But Jack remained calm and composed. Although he never saw combat, his years of military training taught him to suck it up and remain focused. “Sir, Eirik is unconscious. I believe his forearm is broken and he has some lacerations on the side of his head. It is bleeding but not gushing, so I would say that part is good,” explained Jack, calm, considering the circumstances. “The dog is fine too and doesn’t seem to be hurt or affected by the predicament we are in. For my part, I seem to be uninjured, but a little shaken.”
Jack’s training was coming back fast. He knew that maintaining calm was key. They had air, food and water. The temperature was cool but manageable, and the corridor around them seemed structurally sound. For the short term, they were safe.
“What happened and what is your situation?” asked Lawson.
Jack pointed the flashlight in all directions, deliberately stopping on important clues as he answered. “As far as I can tell, we are indeed inside another Facility. But it seems to be on its side” From the device, he could hear the echo of people murmuring in amazement. “We are currently on the wall that is in a direct line with the transporters, which would be the wall that you have in front of you, if you were standing with your right shoulder next to the transporters. If I look down the corridor, there are rectangular holes, both on the floor and the ceiling. Those are likely doors to some rooms and since I’m facing what would be your floor, when I look up I can see the transporters and the corridor angled at about sixty degrees. On the right, I can see a hole on the inclined wall in front of the transporters. That’s likely a room, too. If I wanted, I could climb to that hole using the railing on it, which is of course, my floor. On the floor which is your wall of course, I can see a rectangular hole in the ground about ten metres away and another five metres after that. The problem is that the air is not that good. The temperature is about fifteen degrees Celsius, which suggests to me that we are underground and there is no power at all. Everything is completely dark.”
“Are you in immediate danger?” asked Lawson.
“No. If we don’t move we should be okay, but I have to admit that without power and the transporter facing almost directly downward, I’m not sure how we can get out of here.”
“One problem at a time, soldier,” replied Lawson. “Here is the doctor. Be careful. We are sending a first aid kit through the first transporter now.”
“Okay, I’m ready for it, Sir. Sir, I don’t want to sound negative, but I have the feeling we are going to be here for a while. So please, send at least ten days’ worth of food and water and at least one thousand feet of rope and ten blankets,” requested Jack, as he braced to catch the first aid kit, unsure if he would see it appear and drop using only the light of the flashlight. It went smoothly, as the kit had been stored in a soft, padded case. He then removed his sleeping bag from the top of his backpack and spread it on the floor, helped by his flashlight. Before he had time to move Eirik on top of the bag, the dog had already adopted it as her new cushion and was looking at him with her nose on her paw.
Jack called Philie off the bag and she obeyed reluctantly. Soon, Eirik was on the sleeping bag and Jack performed a second ABC and, at C, concluded that his buddy was still unconscious. Almost forty minutes had passed before he had time to call the people in Norway again.
“Doc, can you hear me?” asked Jack, leaving the communication device on the floor. He was answered in the affirmative and continued. “Eirik is still unresponsive, but I have made a cast for his arm and put a bandage around his head.”
“We are sending two blankets through and an O2 kit. There is nothing you can do except keep him warm and get his airways open, but don’t put a pillow under his head,” requested Novikov. “There is not much else you can do without proper diagnostic tools, but I have a defibrillator with me and we are ready to send it, if his condition changes.”
“Noted. Send the blankets first and then the oxygen kit next,” requested Jack, hoping to use them to pad the fall of the small tank. “I know it is against Patient Care Protocol, but as soon as I wrap him up, I will start surveying the area. If you can send lights that can survive the drop, that would be good too. All I have is a small flashlight and if the battery dies, we will be in big trouble. Eirik is out of the way and I’ll attach the dog on the handrail further down the corridor.”
“Will do, son,” said Lawson, remembering the speech of his first instructor at officer training. No matter what, the United States of America does not leave their people. But Lawson, not even an hour into the ordeal, was sure that he may have to before long and that sickened him.
“Colonel,” said Jack. “I’m always the one to be overcautious, but this time I was not nearly enough.”
“You couldn’t have known that this would happen,” replied Lawson. “We were too quick and didn’t take enough precautions. We are all to blame.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant, Sir... I meant that I didn’t bring enough goods to survive this type of situation and I would like you to send a week’s worth of supplies, especially food and water. Also, if my first assessment is accurate, cordage will be what we need the most. I have a lot of it in our storage from the crazy days when we were replicating stuff like two lunatics preparing stores for the end of the world. Please take all that you can. Replicate more, if you need. When you feel you have enough, double it!”
“I like your thinking son,” acknowledged Lawson. “It will be done.”
Jack received the blankets and covered Eirik with them, and placed the O2 kit next to him. He secured the strap with the cannula tubing in his nose and then switched on the oxygen supply. His first aid training was telling him not to leave an unconscious victim alone, but that same training also said that his priority was to make sure they were safe. He extracted a lot of gear from his pack, including another communication device that he neglected to mention to the administration and left it beside Eirik. He made his way to the end of the corridor. Walking on the left, passing on the top of what should be the door frame, he peered into the room with his flashlight. He could see the furniture upside down, the chairs and tables piled in a corner. The door to the bathroom wasn’t there, either. It seems that without power, all the doors had simply vanished. A security feature, he assumed, to prevent people from being trapped. But in Norway, it would have meant everyone drowning.
As he started walking along the corridor, the dog followed him to the end of its rope and was now howling like Beagles do when they are abandoned alone in a new and unfamiliar place.
Passing the elevator, he noticed that the door was nowhere to be seen, like all the rest. Fortunately, the elevators were big. That meant the shafts were equally as big, but not enough to stand in them fully upright. At the next door, he took the time to clear the dust and revealed the number on the strip. They had indeed been teleported at the same location in the new Facility, but three levels down or, in their case, three sections left of the decompression chamber. As he continued down the corridor, he saw a few chairs that had fallen through the doors of the rooms above and one table lay flat, upside down, halfway hanging in the door frame. Through the communication device, he could hear that the howling had stopped. All Jack could hear now was the sound of his boots as he walked off the dusty wall, now his floor. Whenever he placed his ear on the communicator, he could hear Eirik breathing slowly but constantly.
The air was still a little hard to breathe, but not worse than when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Except perhaps that on the mountain, the air was pure, while this one was stuffy and stale. As he reached the end, he could now see the next corridor, which was pointing up at an angle of sixty degrees. It gave him the feeling of being at the bottom of a giant soup bowl. Everything was completely dark, dirty, and smelly. But at least the structure was in pristine condition. It’s at this moment that he realized their luck. The transporters seemed to all be located on one of the two inside walls at each corner of the Facility. From his position, he could see the transporters right on top of him on the ceiling, pointing ninety degrees downwards. The lucky part had been to use the transporters that were located at what was now the bottom of the Facility. If they had happened to appear on a side near the top, they may have either slid into a room through an open door or all the way to the bottom, almost three hundred metres below.
Not wanting to risk a climb without the proper equipment this early in the game, Jack made his way back to Eirik, focusing on his steps to make sure he didn’t fall in a room or hurt himself. He also tried not to think too much. But he didn’t need to think. He already had an idea how to get out and that was good. Risky, almost suicidal, but it was a plan. It all depended on Eirik regaining consciousness, of course, and his ability to climb nearly two hundred metres at a sixty degree-angle to the first corner, all that with one arm. Since it was on its side, the Facility was shaped like a boomerang, and the second half of the climb required a change to the other side in order not to have to do an inverted climb for the rest of the way. After that would be two hundred more metres of climbing before finally reaching the top. At that point, they would need the electricity restored, the transporters in good working condition and the Facility in Norway on the list. But it was a plan and he was proud of himself to have come up with it so quickly. That gave him great comfort and, in any survival situation, keeping the mind occupied was the best way to control your anxiety.
As he reached Eirik, he found him still unconscious. At least he was breathing normally, as if asleep. Jack then requested that the sending of food be stopped for a while, not wanting to be knocked off by a palette of Meal Ready-to-Eat, as he walked underneath the transporters to search through the pile of scattered goods. Buried underneath was enough food and water to last them a full month, well fed. He found two flashlights, batteries and a powerful spotlight padded in plastic bubble wrap. A few bottles of water had exploded on impact as they had hit the ground or had been ripped open by the cascading food that fell on them. Luckily, none of the food pouches were damaged. MRE rations were designed to endure beatings and extreme storage conditions, and that ordeal just proved it. Jack took a moment to feed Philie one of the liver treats and let her run free. But she didn’t go far, not with so many potential cushions all over the floor.
After a few minutes sorting the supplies, he called back.
“Thanks for all the food and water. I just walked to the end of the corridor. There are some debris on the floor at the end and some water in the last room. It seems all the doors vanished when the power failed and some water and air are coming in, but I can’t see any light from here. All the corridors are intact and, with the help of ramps and ropes, we should be able to climb to the top. But for that, we would need climbing equipment. Like I said, I have a lot in our storage. However, I see none here,” observed Jack, not considering how his remark had sounded.
“I’m aware of that, Jack, but we have yet to be able to open your storage,” answered Lawson, and it’s just been an hour, damn it. But he didn’t say it. “The men just arrived to it a few minutes ago, but no one can open it. One of us is making his way to the control room now to try and reset the system. I know it’s hard to be patient with a wounded friend while being stuck the way you are, but please understand that it will take time. By the looks of it, it might take days for us to get you out...” if we can.
Although he knew it in his heart, hearing it made the point strike home. It was a hell of a climb for an experienced climber and Eirik wasn’t. He was in no shape to even sit down at the moment, let alone climb an almost vertical wall. If you ever climbed a loose rope ladder, you know it is tough. So imagine doing it with one hand and for almost half a kilometre. “I understand, Sir,” agreed Jack. “We have enough provisions of food and water, so take your time to organize. We are not going anywhere, for the moment, anyway. But Sir, may I suggest you ask Steven or Chrissy? They both have the ability to open every door. At least they haven’t been rejected yet, I believe.”
“Good idea. We will go and get them,” replied Lawson. But Celina was already on her way to their rooms, having followed the conversation on the communication system,
Celina rang Steven’s room first and then on Chrissy’s, but there were no answers. She also knocked on the door and the wall but still no response. After nearly one minute, Steven pulled out and extracted his face from Chrissy’s hair and kissed her. Chrissy, who seemed unaffected by the door chime, was now on top of him, but Steven was unable to continue performing on the account of the noise, and it was immediately apparent.
He kissed her as he let her fall next to him and got up. He placed one layer of blanket to cover her completely all the way up to her neck. Then, he took a second blanket from the foot of the bed to cover himself and walked toward the door. But less than a metre away from the bed, it vanished, leaving him exposed. “Oh, that happened.” He laughed and turned toward Chrissy, “One more thing to add to the list of phenomena.”
He rushed to put his underwear and opened the door. Celina jumped back a step, no longer expecting the door to open. She looked at Steven, barely noticing him, and walked in the room.
Out of breath, she walked to the edge of the bed and turned to face Steven. “Get dressed! Eirik and Jack are in trouble. They have teleported to another Facility and they can’t come back! On top of that, Eirik is badly injured and was still unconscious when I left. We tried to contact you, but you guys didn’t answer.” Chrissy, who had straightened up in bed, was now looking at her.
“We were here the entire time. No one told us anything,” replied Chrissy. “Where were they teleported?”
“Better question: We have teleporting capabilities now?” he asked, but got no reply.
As Steven got dressed and handed clothes to Chrissy, Celina explained what she knew and what Jack had requested. When Celina finished a reasonably good account of the situation, Steven and Chrissy kissed and stared at each other for an instant and split up. Steven was now walking toward a room on the fourth level to pick up an antigravity platform. He activated it and it was now following him like a trained dog, hovering half a metre above ground. Celina was walking ahead with a determined pace and, as he was increasing his speed to keep up, he couldn’t help wonder why Eirik had not discovered these transporters sooner. Three years was a long time, even in a place as big as this. He also started wondering if Eirik had other secrets he hadn’t revealed to them.
As they exited the elevator, people were already waiting at the storage door with other antigravity units and speculating wildly about everything, from the transporter technology itself up to the whereabouts of Eirik and Jack, now referred to by everyone as the Castaways. Steven had no problem opening the door, to the relief of some and the obvious jealousy of others. Opening the door was the easy part for Steven. Locating ropes in that organized mess was another matter. They finally found a long length of dynamic rope, the kind that stretches to absorb the shock if the climber falls. Not seeing a replicator in that messy room, they walked next door and started the replication. Celina, who was a great sports enthusiast and an avid climber, examined the gear thoroughly. As she confirmed that it was all still in good condition, she was surprised of her developing desire to go and help them; more so, however, was the excitement that she felt with regard to the possibility that this may be an entirely new area to explore, which would fall right in her expertise. By the time she exited the room with the first load of ropes, carabiners, quickdraws and belay devices, she was already in full rescue mode. She was a true risk taker and knew her ability to cope with difficult situations. She was also a pragmatic. Until an exit could be discovered, she would have to keep at bay these desires to be a hero.
Chrissy, in the meantime, was on the computer, helped by Maurice. She was trying to see if the database contained information about the additional Facilities, but it was almost impossible to find.
At the beginning, Chrissy had felt that Maurice should have been able to translate more. But she changed her mind after he explained in a meeting with others, who also had not been able to understand his lack of progress, that it would be like someone using Windows 98 for the first time. To complicate matters more, every function and text were written in Arabic. People understood at once and Maurice had not heard a word on the subject ever since.
Before long, the first load of ropes had been delivered to the transporter and sent through. Colonel Lawson, who was now sitting down, was in deep thought as he saw more ropes arriving. He was looking at the pile of replicated ropes and it reminded him of the stories he had read about the B-24 Bomber production during World War II. In 1942, the car factories of America had never built any aircrafts before, but when the government requested a bomber for the war in Europe, engineers designed the plane in less than ninety days. At the peak of the production in 1943, they were making a complete airplane every 63 minutes.
That situation was no different. People would mobilize, urgency would set in, and solutions would be found. In the meantime, relationships would be made and other aspects, not necessarily related to the problem, would also improve.
Lawson, feeling that the ordeal would take a long time to be resolved—perhaps days or even weeks–ordered the night shift guards and some of the people willing to help to start organizing a rescue centre using the rooms in front of the transporters. He designated duties to care for Jack, Eirik and Philie around the clock.
Lawson left the doctor and his second-in-command in charge of the monitoring and the rescue of the Castaways, and went to bed. He knew the night would be short and the day tomorrow promised to be long. The Colonel was used to having men missing in action under his command for hours and even days, but these were civilians, heroes in the eyes of some, which meant political nightmares ahead. But politics was what tomorrow had in spades, thanks to the United States Presidential Election taking place in less than thirty-six hours, and the stakes were high for him. It is with that thought that he finally managed to fall into an uneasy sleep.